Childhood memories come and go, but the murals on the walls of Missouri Avenue Elementary are forever. A former principal is ensuring the decades-old murals are not demolished with the building as the school is razed and rebuilt in a new facility across the street.
Duane Evans, who served as principal from 1981 to 2002, says he couldnâ€™t bear the thought of the pictures perishing in the dust.
â€œI would hate to see them just totally disappear,â€ Evans said. â€œI believe itâ€™s unique, and I thought it was a shame to lose them entirely.â€
In fact, it was Evans who originally thought to brighten the drab, brown-tiled hallways with cheery panoramic pictures in the early 1990s. Today, about 18 murals span the hallways, depicting scenes from Disney movies, like The Lion King and Pocahontas, and books like Shel Silversteinâ€™s The Giving Tree and Rudyard Kiplingâ€™s The Jungle Book.
â€œIt was a lower-income school,â€ Evans said. â€œI began to realize that many of our children coming to school and spending the day with us, it was probably the most positive thing that occurred in their daily life.â€
Evans contracted art students from Roswell and Goddard high schools, as well as art teachers and local artists, to paint the murals for about $100 apiece. He says the school raised money for the project by selling pickles, ice pops and ice cream. The first mural, one of Aesopâ€™s fables, â€œThe Tortoise and the Hare,â€ was painted in 1992.
He says he tried to vary the art work to reflect the demographics of the student body, which was at least half Hispanic at the time. A black and white image of a weeping woman is painted between classrooms near the Kindergarten wing to illustrate La Lloriana, a popular Mexican folktale. He laughed as he recalled his faux pas upon its completionâ€” the weeping woman is known to kidnap children who disobey their parents.
â€œOne of my teachers whoâ€™s Hispanic told me, â€˜Mr. Evans, you shouldnâ€™t have put that up there,â€™â€ Evans remembered. â€œI said â€˜Why?â€™ â€˜We use it to scare children,â€™ she said. â€˜Itâ€™s like putting up a boogeyman.â€™â€
â€œIt was the only one I found that is truly, legitimately a Mexican folktale,â€ he added.
He also received some good humored flack from the faculty for the rendering of the Puff the Magic Dragon.
â€œSome of the teachers got on me for that and said, â€˜Mr. Evans, youâ€™re too old to know this, but thatâ€™s a drug song,â€™ he said, with a laugh. â€œIâ€™m sorry. Itâ€™s cute, and I didnâ€™t know.â€
Still, students love the color ful paintings of their favorite films and books, says current principal Glenda Moore.
â€œKids relate to that,â€ Moore said.
Moore added that it also fosters an appreciation for art, culture and reading, and that the murals have become a trademark of the school.
â€œWhen (the students) come back as alums, theyâ€™re going to look for those,â€ she says.
Evans launched a campaign about a year ago to raise money to preserve the murals in some way. Through letter campaigns, local radio appearances and selling T-shirts that read â€œSave the Mo Ave Murals,â€ Evans reached his fundraising goal of $6,000 about four months ago.
He says the murals will be preserved by photographs. He hired a professional photographer to take pictures of the murals for about $2,000, and the photographs will be stretched out on canvas paper to look like a canvas painting at a later date.
â€œNow we preserved them about the only way we possibly could,â€ Evans said.
He added that any leftover money will be donated to the schoolâ€™s art program. Moore says she looks forward to hanging the murals in the new school and credits Evans for making it happen.
â€œHe was really the mastermind, the generator of all this,â€ she said.
Evans says he hopes to give public tours of the murals before demolition of the school takes place.
â€œI want everybody to see them before theyâ€™re gone,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s all we can do because theyâ€™re going to be lost to history when they knock this down.â€